Recovery of the Crashed Tag Airliner From Lake Erie

Revised November 22, 2004

By Doug O'Dell

Republished Courtesy of the WYTM Association


We were breaking ice in the Detroit-Toledo region working "Operation Coal Shovel," escorting coal ships in transit between these two cities. This was an annual duty of the CGC KAW, maintaining shipping lanes as long as possible until raw winter weather finally closed them down.

While in the Detroit area, on Wednesday, January 28, 1970, at approximately 1928 hours, we received an urgent radio message from Coast Guard Group Cleveland that a Tag airliner disappeared from radar about 18 miles northwest of Cleveland. The aircraft was a Dehaviland-Dove H-104, registration N2300H, a nine-seat commuter plane. The aircraft had departed Cleveland's Burk Lakefront Airport headed for Detroit, Michigan.

The CGCís BRAMBLE and KAW were immediately diverted from their duties and dispatched to the area where the aircraft was last reported on radar. Lake Erie was frozen solid at the time so there was a real chance that the aircraft may have survived putting down on the ice.

We were about four hours away from the area, given favorable lake conditions, and I was at the helm as we steamed full ahead. The CGC BRAMBLE, who was closer, arrived on scene first but found no survivors and little crash debris. When we arrived BRAMBLE departed for Cleveland after setting a buoy to mark the crash site, taking the wreckage and the parts of the pilot and co-pilot found in the pilotís compartment, which had broken off when it hit the ice, everyone else went through the ice. After concluding our search and finding nothing more, we also returned to Cleveland.

The following day we took aboard scuba divers from a private salvage company and returned to the scene to try to locate the wreckage. We also carried officers from our district office and officials from the NTSB, as well as side-tracking sonar equipment for viewing and recording the bottom of Lake Erie.

We set our pattern and began searching the lake bottom for anything that looked like aircraft wreckage. It was amazing some of the junk we found, among them a shipwreck and an old coal barge, still loaded with coal. Whenever sonar showed something of interest, we would stop and send a diver down to investigate. It took several days before we found the Tag wreckage.

By that time we had included telemetry equipment, similar to loran, that plotted our position from a point on shore with distance in meters from two fixed locations. We recorded the position of the wreck site and began recovery operations with hardhat divers. Ice and its movement about the ship made it hazardous for operations, and it was decided that we would cease recovery operations and resume at a later time when conditions were safer, which was about three months later.

In early May, with NTSB and hardhat salvage divers aboard, we went to the coordinates recorded for the wreck site, dropped anchor, and positioned the ship above the wreck site.

We had two goals to accomplish: to recover the bodies of the and the two aircraft engines, or any other part of the aircraft that the NTSB thought was pertinent to their investigation.

We recovered the seven bodies of the passengers, along with the engines and their mounts. The NTSB was able to determine that it was an inboard forward mount that had failed, causing the engine to rotate outboard and shear off the wing. The one thing they were not able to determine was whether it had failed in flight or prior to taking off, or if a problem was overlooked by ground maintenance personnel. This finding resulted in a change of maintenance procedures and likely saved the lives of others who continued to fly the Dehaviland Dove.

Even though it ended so tragically, this unpleasant task brought closure to the families of the victims of this ill-fated airliner.

Read NTSB Report. 



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